An Unlikely Ally

Interestingly enough, a company which has amassed its fortune and reputation providing monolithic closed systems is emerging as the greatest commercial ally of open distributed systems. IBM under Lou Gerstner has made a remarkable strategic turn around, and now embraces open standards that encourage interoperability in stark contrast to its former policies. Before, IBM imposed its own standards in such a monopolistic way that it led to the first major antitrust investigation in the computer industry.

The new IBM vision is “e-business”, which in effect encourages companies to buy parts from various vendors or develop strategic parts in-house to plug into one major middleware data-bus. IBM does have a selfish interest here—it wants its vision to revolve around its own middleware, whether it is TX transaction processing, MQ Series messaging, DataJoiner query manager or even good old CICS. The remarkable thing is that IBM is championing open standards for such middleware. This message is quite different from the one pushed by ERP vendors.

IBM's consulting arm still draws a tidy revenue stream from traditional ERP implementations, but the whole company is rapidly warming to the e-business concept. Again, this is not just altruism on IBM's part. The Internet, the insistence of more and more international (especially European) organizations on formal standards and even the influence of the Linux community have convinced IBM that open standards can be big business. The Linux community has made much of IBM's adoption of Apache as the basis for its web application servers, but unlike other companies who have merely taken from the open-source community, IBM, with actions such as the open release of its XML processor library for Java, is giving in return.